PHOENIX – A court case involving vacation rentals in Sedona could affect
Arizona property owners and cities far from the north-central Arizona city known
for its picturesque red rocks.
At issue in recently filed legal briefs in the case is whether a Sedona
ordinance banning short-term rentals violates a property rights law that Arizona
voters approved in 2006.
An advocacy group for cities says the Arizona Supreme Court should overturn a
lower court’s ruling against the ordinance, saying it would erase cities’
authority to regulate land use to protect residents’ health and safety.
A conservative group says the real danger would be if cities can easily exempt
their actions from the law requiring compensation for government action that
reduces property values.
Sedona contends it needs the ban to protect residential neighborhoods in the
heavily visited city and that the owner of Sedona Grand violated the ban by
allowing prospective buyers to “inspect” the property for a set period of
A website for Sedona Grand describes the property as a five-bedroom home
suitable for “vacation rental” and displays photos of “panoramic views” of
Sedona’s red rock cliffs and bluffs. The site also lists other properties.
The city’s ban dates from 1995, but the Sedona Grand case centers on a 2008
ordinance making it a misdemeanor to rent out single-family homes for fewer than
30 consecutive days.
Sedona, with a population of approximately 6,500, is a magnet for tourists and
other visitors, thanks to its scenic vistas. It also draws many in the New Age
movement, who are seeking inspiration, enlightenment and renewal through things
like aura and psychic readings, and vortex sites, which are said to possess
The ordinance said Sedona “is committed to maintaining its small-town
character, scenic beauty and natural resources that are the foundation of its
economic strength and quality of life.” Specific concerns for protecting
neighborhoods include traffic, noise, “high occupant turnover” and density,
A trial judge ruled that the ordinance was allowed by the property rights law’s
permitted exemption for measures to protect health and safety, but the state
Court of Appeals in February reversed the judge’s ruling.
The mid-level court said the city has to do more to prove a connection between
the ordinance and health and safety concerns.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide later this summer whether to rule on
appeals in the case.
The case hinges on what level of deference courts must give municipalities when
their city councils make determinations, said Stephen Schwartz, a lawyer for
The Goldwater Institute, a conservative group that advocates for property
rights, urged the Supreme Court to allow the Court of Appeals ruling to stand.
Cities aren’t entitled to unchecked power and Sedona’s labeling its ordinance
as necessary for health and safety was “a masquerade,” lawyer Christina
Sandefur said in the institute’s brief, adding that the property rights law’s
protections would be worthless if cities can exempt themselves by mere
In fact, it was distrust of government that prompted Arizona voters to approve
the property rights law in the first place, Sandefur said.
If government ends up having to compensate property owners, “it simply means
(the law) is being enforced as voters intended,” she wrote.
Sedona argued in its appeal to the Supreme Court that the City Council’s
findings and declarations are entitled to deference by the courts, and League of
Arizona Cities and Towns separately said the Court of Appeals ruling “unduly
interferes with a municipality’s power to make decisions relating to public
health and safety.”
Allowing the ruling to stand would handcuff cities on matters such as water use
because it’d be impractical for city councils to routinely submit to court
hearings on whether use of a health and safety exemption is justified, the
league’s brief said.
“These determinations should be made by those people elected to protect their
citizens,” league attorney Joni Hoffman wrote.
Sedona Grande also appealed, asking the justices to overturn part of the Court
of Appeals ruling to have the case go back to trial court for more fact-finding
on whether the city can justify its use of the health and safety exemption.